Workplace Safety

H&S is killing us softly

By Greg Sheehan, Sheehan’s Transport Assistance.

A few months ago, I celebrated 50 years of working in the road transport industry, so I feel that I am qualified to offer positive comment on an industry that I love, have many friends in and have received accolades and awards for my contribution to, over these past years.

My involvement in transport and cartage actually started some years prior to 50 years ago, when as a morning newspaper boy aged 12, I delivered the NZ Herald six days a week to residents, dairies, local motor camps and hotels in Takapuna, on Auckland’s North Shore. For three years, prior to leaving school and starting fulltime work, I rose every morning at 4.50am to start delivering an average 100 newspapers a day (a daily run of an hour and a half) for 17/6d per week in all weathers. That takes commitment and dedication. Yes, the pay rate did rise over the years to 32 ‘bob’ or $3.20 a week in today’s money, but it was a good job!

You were required to have a good raincoat and hat, gumboots and a dynamo for lights on your bike. You were expected to have your bike in good mechanical order as well. The only trouble was as you slowed to a letterbox to fold and push the paper into the letterbox, the lights went out and on a dark wet morning you couldn’t see. Oh … to have a modern LED battery light then!

But that was the start of learning about health and safety. You were able to stay reasonably warm and dry, if it was wet and cold, other early risers could see you riding on the footpath and hopefully as you rode from gate to gate you didn’t take a tumble on to the ground as you rode bow legged with the canvas paper bag between your legs! Hi-Viz jackets hadn’t been invented then, but it was entirely up to you to do your job carefully and safely. Today it’s called zero harm.

In our early teenage years we progressed from our bikes to riding ‘shotgun’ on various other modes of transport. The Northern motorway and Auckland Harbour Bridge were under construction and the after school activities not only included homework and footy practice, but riding as a passenger on CAT DW15s and CAT DW20 motor scrapers, CAT D8s towing cable-operated scoops and best of all a J6 diesel powered 4 x 2 Bedford tip truck, as the motorway construction progressed.

From a health and safety point of view, you learned very quickly, that if you didn’t hold on tight, you invariably whacked your arm or funny bone, grazed a shin or got other minor grazes. It’s like a big swing on a tree, you only fall once and hurt yourself and from then on, you hold on tight!

But … you learned what was safe and what was not! You soon learned about safe angles for machinery to operate on, how to drive it correctly, how to carry out daily service functions and maintenance. A sunhat, sunglasses and boots were the safety items of the day. You learned to always make eye contact with a machine operator if you were walking on the site. You never walked behind a working machine at any time and as you got to know more about earthworks, machinery and trucks, you developed a love for this type of work. Blokes would show you how to do all kinds of stuff. When the bosses weren’t around, you could have a quick drive of things. At the end of the day if you were quick enough you would drive the machine from the diesel refuelling tank to the park area for the night.

Most tip trucks of the day had wooden decks with a cam and roller hoist and you learned how to always tip on level ground. You learned how to spread metal, how to back a trailer and a Saturday job washing trucks always got you a drive around the yard to park neatly in the row with others. General freight had to be tied on with ropes and tarps, not ratchet straps and curtain siders like today.

Later teenage years were spent riding in trucks on and off the Port of Auckland’s various wharves with phosphate, soda ash, sulphur, export iron sand (yep that too) and containers as they became more popular. Sand, gravel and builders mix was delivered to sites all over Auckland from barges at Devonport, Birkenhead and Panmure and major construction sites like Paremoremo Prison, the steel mill at Glenbrook and additions to Auckland Port, were served from Winstones and Stevensons quarries by trucks and trailers that you had learned to drive and had now obtained the correct licences for. The opening hours of the wharf or quarries dictated the hours that you could work. There were no log books or allowable work time/driving hours that you had to manage.

The same thing applied to logging trucks or stock trucks as mills or slaughter works had “work time” that you either met or you waited till the next day to deliver to.

There was no induction to enter a port area, a construction site, a forestry skid site or timber mill, or quarry. Why? Because you were expected to know what hazards were there! Logic made you aware that you kept away from other machinery, mobile or fixed, you didn’t need a painted walkway between buildings, you kept away from big holes or unfenced pits, you stood where a machine operator could see you as he loaded your truck or trailer and you acknowledged the loader driver when he had finished servicing your requirements, so that you could then carry out any load security or pre-trip departure activity.

Greg together with his wife Karin, own Sheehan’s Transport Assistance based in Kinloch, Taupo.

His business was formed in 1998, following a career in the road transport industry. It encompasses oversize load piloting, heavy haulage logistics and permitting applications for clients.

Greg, for 10 years served on the board of directors of the NZ Heavy Haulage Association and also served three years as chairman of that organisation.

He is an authorised trainer/assessor for MITO and the NZ Transport Agency.

His company holds an award from the NZ Minister of Defence presented in 2015 for “The provision of superior service” to the defence industry and he was recognised by his peers in the NZ Heavy Haulage Association in 2016 with the awarding of the Gus Breen Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement.

Mob: 027 293 6206
Office: 07 378 7153

So, what has happened over the latter years? We have stood by and watched as personal health and safety has been dictated to us by other persons, generally who have no knowledge or involvement in our industry. How can someone who has never ridden in a truck, sat in a digger’s cab or thrown a chain over a log, dictate what must be a formal requirement to enter a worksite? These rules, now endorsed by WorkSafe NZ to protect us from ourselves, have closed our industry to young people to the detriment of road transport businesses throughout the country.

You are no longer allowed to take your young son, or daughter for that matter, with you to work. They can’t ride in the truck with you on to a port, into a quarry, on to a forestry site, into a construction site or into some warehouses.

Why! Because they haven’t been inducted! No longer is it deemed that they will be safe on the site, because someone else is now delegated with ensuring that they are unable to learn. Our young people are being denied access to all sorts of industry because it is deemed unsafe for them by new rules for workplace safety.

Why can’t WorkSafe NZ promote a ‘learn on the job’ ticket whereby young people can be a recognised participant in road transport as an offsider or riding ‘shotgun’ in Dad’s truck or with any other adult prepared to show them the ropes and learn as they go. They could for instance qualify as a learner through a MITO programme, whereby the basics of safe travel in a truck to and from various worksites, construction zones, wharves or forestry would enable them to do what they want! That is to learn on the job while being with Dad, an older sibling or friend. It should be offered to them at school as part of a chosen curriculum or certainly available as part of choosing a career path into our industry.

Tech drawing, metalwork, woodwork, business studies and cooking are all offered to our young people at school as part of a learning experience. Why not basic road transport?

Without being able to access the basics required to learn about this fantastic industry, WorkSafe and the rules surrounding it are now slowly strangling any desire on the part of young people, to be a part of road transport and are the cause of health and safety regulation now killing our industry through a severe lack of young entrants.

No wonder there is a severe shortage of truck drivers! Let’s do something about it now!

Heavy haulage veteran Greg Sheehan hit a sore nerve last month with his argument that the new health and safety regime is making recruiting young folks into our industries difficult. Read on for replies from Brett Murray, WorkSafe New Zealand’s GM Operations and Specialist Services, and Associate Minister of Transport, David Bennett, and Greg’s response to the Minister.

The Hon David Bennett, MP for Hamilton East and Associate Minister of Transport, responds to Greg Sheehan. 16 March 2017

Dear Greg

Thank you for your email of 10 February 2017 to the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Bill English, and the Minister for Transport, Hon Simon Bridges, attaching your open letter on the need to get younger people into the road transport industry. Your email has been referred to me as the matter you raise falls within my portfolio responsibilities.

The road transport industry provides a critical service to our modern economy, where around 70 percent of the freight task is moved by truck, and it is people, not just the trucks that make the whole industry work.

The Government supports the road transport industry’s efforts to recruit, train and retain the people it needs and have actively been supporting the Women in Road Transport (see initiative led by the Road Transport Forum. This work has shown real potential in opening the industry up to a large numbers of hardworking and talented people who are looking for a career change.

The Government has also taken direct responsibility for other initiatives to encourage younger people into the road transport industry, including the Driver License Review started in 2016. This comprehensive review found a number of areas of opportunity where improvements in the licensing system could produce measurable social, safety, and economic benefits. The findings of this review will be released shortly, including those proposals that will support the commercial driving sector.

There has been great success in the Young Driver Signature Project, the Behind the Wheel Mangere (see initiative). This innovative project began to address the problem of the high number of unlicensed young people being involved in crashes. Through the collaboration and support of ACC, the New Zealand Transport Agency project, and Auckland Transport, the project has worked to help young people through the licensing  process. This work has found that ensuring young people have their Class 1 license, has removed both a barrier to employment and provided the opportunity to progress onto learning to drive commercial vehicles.

Additionally, hundreds of young people have passed through the Community Driver Mentor Programme (see www.nzta.govt.nzlresourceslcommunitv-driver-mentor-programme-guide/) to gain their full Class 1 license. Developed by the AA and the Transport Agency this programme has both helped to ensure that young drivers are safer and better equipped for the responsibilities of holding a full Class 1 licence, as well as opening up employment opportunities for them into the future.

There are also many adults and young adults who would like to enter the transport industry but are disadvantaged due to limited literacy and numeracy skills. The Tertiary Education Commission, in partnership with the Transport Agency, Worksafe New Zealand, the Industry Training Federation and the Ministry of Education has developed a free programme called Pathways Awarua. Learners can select modules relating to content for learner, restricted and heavy vehicle licenses, while at the same time strengthening their literacy and numeracy competencies to assist them entering the work force.

As a result of these successes officials are looking at broadening this work to reach more young people across the country.

Greg Sheehan responds to the Minister’s Letter…

Dear David

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my letter regarding young people in the road transport industry. I still can’t help getting the feeling that you have missed my point!

Government is to be applauded for some of the initiatives to enable young people to gain Class 1 driver’s licences. These initiatives will offer the opportunity for young folk to enter the workforce, but the current requirements of WorkSafe NZ and the pressure that they have placed on all industries, preclude young people from the practical experiences required to gain the knowledge so necessary to get a foothold in to this fantastic industry, road transport.

With the best will in the world, the training organisations tasked with teaching young people to learn to drive a car or even a truck, only teach them the actual driving part of obtaining a driver’s licence. Not one of these organisations even knows anything outside of how to steer, change gear, brake or general road code knowledge!

Please tell me, who do you go to to learn how to trail a load of metal onto a new road, how to back into a paving machine with a load of hotmix? How does a ratchet strap work and do you need corner boards with that? Where do you learn about correct chaining and load security for a 20 tonne digger on a trailer? Why aren’t logs all loaded with the butt end at the rear end of the load on the truck? And why can’t you load pallets of yogurt onto a flat-top semi and tarp it? Driving schools don’t teach these things!

While I respect your comments about some young folk having literacy and numeric skills, it is also very apparent in older persons that I train in industry related unit standards. Some people I encounter are experts in certain driving skills and have talents taught to them at an early age by their Dad, or someone close to them, but have trouble putting things on paper. However, the important thing is that they were able to learn at an early age from practical experience.

WorkSafe NZ and some of your colleagues go to great lengths to say that they do not preclude young people from riding in trucks – “as long as all the necessary safety requirements are met”.

How very true! None of us want any of our kids to come to harm, but if they are not allowed entry into say Ports of Auckland wharves, construction site areas, or forestry skids, because they ‘haven’t been inducted’, or ‘haven’t got a driver’s licence or form of ID’, how can they learn?

There is a fantastic opportunity for our tertiary institutions to offer training in all of the matters that I’ve raised simply by recognising that this training is available through parents, family and wider relationships in road transport, as well as involving ports, extractive industries, forestry, construction and roading just to name a few, and encouraging participation in a learning scheme for young people actually on the job.

Brett Murray, WorkSafe New Zealand’s GM Operations and Specialist Services, responds to Greg Sheehan

Healthy debate is part of how we will raise the standard of health and safety in businesses across New Zealand, so I thank Greg Sheehan for his article ‘H&S is killing us softly’ published on, and in the March issue of Contractor magazine.

The Health and Safety at Work Act (2015) (HSWA) is not prescriptive and therefore does not prevent young children riding as passengers in trucks while onsite. The Act requires businesses to manage any additional risks from the presence of a child in order to keep that child, workers or others safe from harm.

However, there is a requirement from the Health and Safety Regulations (2016) that children must be under direct supervision of an adult and not in an area where high risk activity is taking place. The level of risk by having a child present will depend on the site and the nature of the work being undertaken.

The truck operator, driver and a business running a site would need to have a discussion to determine the risks associated with having a child onsite and what appropriate management actions need to be taken to ensure everyone’s safety. In some cases it will be appropriate that children are banned from site.

Mr Sheehan mentioned about the “good old days”, which is usually stated alongside “it’s just common sense”. We don’t believe that common sense in itself is enough to ensure the safety of workers and anyone else, including children, in the workplace. If common sense was enough, New Zealand would not be one of the worst performing countries in the OECD list for fatalities and injuries in workplaces.

To improve, the culture around health and safety in New Zealand businesses need to change and that is why discussions such as this are important. It is fair to say that as a country we are relatively immature in our approach to health and safety, opting in many cases to use a checkbox and paperwork approach.

The outcome of this is that companies will more frequently go straight to imposing blanket rules as risk controls without having fully considered other options that may be appropriate for the circumstances of their work, such as bans on children riding in the cab of trucks.

But consider this, as a driver if you need to go inside to deliver a package, what do you then do with your child in the cab as they would now be unsupervised? This is a risk that would need to be managed.

Modern health and safety is about identifying risk, assessing the likelihood and using a risk-based approach to managing that risk. We are not expecting companies to remove all risk, but ask that you do what is reasonably practicable to keep people safe.

It is important that the risk controls are effective and proportionate to risks that arise from particular work activities. It is also essential that companies frequently communicate with each other and with workers about the hazards and the risks that arise from work and that we never assume that others understand the risks or the agreed ways in which they are to be managed.

Finally, I’d like to pick up on another of Mr Sheehan’s points, which was about supporting on-the-job learning.

WorkSafe is actually pro learning on the job as we have just recruited 26 trainee inspectors, who will learn on the job.

The crux for us though, is making sure that the on-the-job training is done in a safe environment so that they can go home safe at the day’s end.

Related posts

Towards a zero harm target

Contrafed PUblishing

Aggregate matters and concerns

Contrafed PUblishing

Roger McRae: The ConstructSafe Champion

Gill Prentice